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Does the symposium inspire action?

Concordia College held its 2014 Faith, Reason, and World Affairs Symposium last week, titled “Sustainability: Local Action | Global Impact.” (Disclaimer: I presented an OK concurrent session during this symposium). This marked my second symposium, and the second time I have felt the symposium to be a bit esoteric for students. How can we residents of Moorhead, Minn. grapple with issues as large as global climate change? I think it’s natural to question our ability to affect change on such a level (indeed, this was a contention of my concurrent session), and I worry that it leads to discouragement rather than invigoration. The more emphasis we place on global changes, in my opinion, the more we create disillusioned students. Having completed my second symposium, I am reminded of my first.

My freshman year, I attended the symposium “Beyond Genocide: Learning to Help and Hope.” I had little idea what to expect, but throughout the week, I heard the often graphic stories of many genocide survivors. Put simply, I found myself overwhelmed. Without a clear path of action – without a way to channel what I had experienced – I felt discouraged. I remember angrily calling friends specifically because the topic of genocide had frustrated me, and I couldn’t find anything to do about it. With the encouragement of a friend, I discovered an outlet for my energy: writing a proposal for an action-oriented symposium.

Over the course of several weeks, 2014 alumnus Levi Bachmeier and I fleshed out a symposium that we believed could inspire Cobbers to direct action. We titled our symposium proposal Discovering our Neighborhood: Concordia College, its Community, and the World. While our proposal was not accepted, I found myself inspired to review it this year. “The most valuable feature of this theme,” we wrote, “is its palpability. By promoting awareness of students’ immediate environment, this symposium encourages tangible involvement and increases the likelihood of student engagement. Moreover, this topic pertains to the lives of average students more than past topics, bridging the gap between apathy and excitement.”

While I now find it more than a bit ambitious that a student who had been on campus for a matter of weeks would propose to improve such an important Concordia tradition, I do think the Lipp-Bachmeier Symposium had some merit. I stand in the wake of the symposium which was chosen above ours (amongst others), and I still feel the need for visible change. While this symposium offered amazing plenary sessions, I am left with a description of the horrors of climate change without a clear way how I, Concordia junior Zach Lipp, can affect change. Or, perhaps more likely, the point of the symposium isn’t action. The symposium exists to remind me and my fellow math majors that not every problem has clear solutions – that we should feel frustrated and that frustration should linger. Discomfort can help us grow, but that doesn’t make it any easier.

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